What Worries the CMO? Fathoming the Human Heart.

Chief marketing officers (CMO) exist to generate demand for their companies’ ongoing value propositions. CMOs realize they have the trickiest job in the business world: gain actionable insight into the customer’s heart and, hopefully, nudge them into a long relationship that involves much loyalty, many purchases, and deep satisfaction.

LHC HeartEssentially, CMOs worry that they can’t see deeply enough into the customer’s heart, and that they are blind to the pent-up desires and festering frustrations that may doom the relationship. Businesses of all sizes regularly succeed and fail due to their ability, or failure, to tune into the implicit, unspoken, inconstant, and indirectly accessible human heart.

Any marketer worth their salt these days realizes that the intangible of “experience”–the gravitational field in which the heart lives and breathes–has tangible heft. Perceived experience is often the most fundamental factor that makes or breaks a customer relationship.

The stakes of customer experience could not be higher. In conjunction with the CIO, the CMO’s core job is to maintain a 360-degree repository of customer data, including the behavioral and other sources that help illuminate customers’ inner experience as it is reflected in purchase behaviors, expressed sentiments, satisfaction scores, and other indicators. You might regard this as the “big data of desire.” Advanced analytics in all their variety are the data-scientific instruments we use to peer deeply into the patterns that, hopefully, pull back the mystery of what customers truly want. Given the subconscious nature of many desires, what truly moves the customer may be a partial mystery to them as well.

You might regard the recent discovery of the Higgs boson as a metaphor for the mysteries of the customer heart. The Higgs boson remained a tantalizing theoretical mystery for many decades, existing at a scale far below though the threshold of everyday perception, and even beyond the capabilities of traditional particle accelerators. It took the creation of the Large Hadron Collider–a massive machine that generates many petabytes of observational data–to help physicists confirm patterns consistent with the boson’s existence. Sometimes, you need the most powerful tools available–such as big data analytics–to find the subtlest, most inaccessible, and most opaque phenomena, such as what makes people happy.

But, hey CMOs, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that big data analytics is a surefire tool for exploring the vagaries of desire. No matter how much data you collect, human experience will remain fundamentally opaque and subjective, defying our efforts to predict experience-driven behaviors with any exactness. Each of us is an unfathomable stew of impressions, inclinations, and tendencies.

james joyceWhen we speak knowingly about customer experience, my head spins with thoughts of James Joyce’s landmark novel “Ulysses.” This forbiddingly strange book is written in a “stream of consciousness” style that attempts to present the subjective experiences of the main characters through run-on interior monologues. Much of this work is in the form of sometimes-naughty puns, allusions, asides, and remarks that mirror the protagonists’ deepest subconscious desires.

Given that none of us truly has conscious control over the majority of what flows through our own heads and hearts–or other people’s, for that matter–how exactly does one optimize an experience? On any given day, the best one might hope for is that a given experience “made your day,” though it may have been entirely unexpected, unplanned, unprecedented, and unlikely to recur. If you’re a commercial organization and hope to continually “make the days” of all of your customers without fail, you must know people better than they know themselves. Not only that, but you must somehow have the resources to grant them their fondest desires (while also turning a profit).

Absent divine omniscience, the best you can do is nurture that experience by engaging your customers continually through human contacts across all or most channels. The formula for experience optimization isn’t a formula. It’s simply standing ready to listen to customers and respond in every way within your power to make their every waking moment a little lighter and brighter.

Down deep, engagement is entanglement. As with the uncertain quantum field in which the Higgs boson lives, the very act of measuring what you’re seeing invariably influences the behavior and experience you’re trying to measure.

CMOs should worry about shaping customer experience, not imagining that they can reduce it to a crisp formula. By the same token, CMOs and CIOs should consider themselves co-influencers of customer experience, rather than passive observers.

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